Monday, March 15, 2010

Digital Drama

There’s a new teen night in town, have your kids heard about it? It features topless underage girls, any type of language is permitted and slanderous rumors spread like crazy. Kids come and go—some able to shrug off the insults that are hurled at them, while others are devastated by the damage to their reputation. At least two have killed themselves because of their experiences of being harassed. Disturbed? Look no further than your child’s phone or facebook. It’s where it’s all happening these days.

In no way does it make up for the offense to humanity that is “Jersey Shore”, but my friend alerted me to a helpful resource MTV has set up to educate teens and parents about the dangers of bullying on-line, via text messages and the trend of “sexting” (sending sexual photos on ones cell phone). Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a text and twitter addict, but these resources can be abused. Phones and facebook are not evil, but poor supervision is causing a world of hurt and permanent damage to teens and their reputations. On, MTV displays information that everyone should know about before they take pictures or share information on their phone or internet.

Even when teens are with their friends it’s not unusual to see their phones in hand, fingers constantly fluttering over their keypads, either texting friends not present or, in a more advanced maneuver, “table texting” the people next to them to say things they don’t want the rest of the group to hear. I often complain that texting is affecting their ability to socialize—you’d be worried if your kids were only speaking in spurts of 140 letters at a time—but now it’s becoming evident that hurtful words and images said are spreading much faster than an old-fashioned note on paper ever did.

This isn’t just a case of “kids saying the darndest things”. Whether it be comments on a profile or photo album, texts or pictures, it’s slanderous and sometimes even illegal. When I stumble upon any kind of drama with teens, my initial reaction is to hope that they’ll work it out as the adults that they are becoming, but I am realizing that teens need more guidance and at times intervention from parents and other adults when it comes to this new social venue. Technology is confusing and it’s challenging to navigate the profiles, passwords and trends but as adults we must mentor youth, even if it means doing a little research first.

Sirach 6:5-6 warns that “a kind mouth multiplies friends, and gracious lips prompt friendly greetings. Let your acquaintances be many, but one in a thousand your confidant”. This is sound advice for social networking and texting. The words that we say-- whether typed, twittered or texted-- are permanent and can be passed around cyberspace indefinitely. In a world where we’re so cautious about where children are and who they’re with, we need to recognize just how far the boundaries of a cell phone or facebook profile extend and be just as vigilant about what is said and done.

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